Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Pezotettix lakinus S.H. Scudder, 1878, described from Lakin, Kansas and Pueblo, Colorado
Melanoplus lakinus (Scudder) Scudder, 1897
Melanoplus marculentus Scudder, 1897, described from Sierra de San Miguelito, ne. San Luis Potosi, Mexico
Melanoplus sonorae Scudder, 1897, near northern boundary of Sonora, Mexico
Very common species of the western US and northern Mexico. Variable in color and pattern. Somewhat stocky, and usually short-winged. In much of it's range it is the only common short-winged Melanoplus species and becomes very familiar to those observing Grasshoppers, though it can be confused with several other species. The shapes of appendages and sclerites at the end of the male abdomen are the surest way to identify them. Females can look like several other species, but the pattern will be similar to associated males, and usually the pattern on the hind legs is useful. In most of the region where it occurs, other short-winged species look distinctly different or occur mostly at higher elevations in the mountains, and a majority of those have red hind tibiae. However, in the eastern Great Plains, and in Texas and Mexico this becomes less true.
Wings usually short, about length of pronotum, but longer in some individuals, and some have fully developed long wings and can fly. Prozona+mesozona of pronotum (part in front of main rear-most sulcus or cross-groove) distinctly longer than metazona (the part behind). Coloration is usually grays, browns, or greens, but occionally there is much yellowish, reddish, or purplish pigment. Usually there is a contrasting (though often broken) dark band running back from eye along top of lateral lobes of thorax. Usually it stops of becomes less bold at the principal sulcus of the pronotum (junction of "prozona" and "metazona"), and may be entirely poorly developed in some individuals (especially females). The dark lateral band often picks up again and continues along the sides of the abdomen, where it is most often interrupted at each segment (the resulting dark spots may join over the back to form dark bands or "rings" on the front half of each segment). However these dark abdominal markings may also be totally lacking on the abdomen (except there is almost always some blackish pattern just before the tip of the abdomen on the top and sides). Often there is a wide darkish (but fuzzy-edged) band down the middle of the head and pronotum above, leaving two paler narrow stripes along each side on top; these may continue along the tegmina. Tegmina are usually pointed and overlapping above the abdomen (except in long-winged individuals not pointed). They are often lighter on top (when folded) than on the sides. The plura of the thorax (sides) usually alternate contrastingly between dark and nearly white. The hind femora usually with prominent dark bars across the top, but these usually ill-defined on inner and outer faces (when present, strongly diagonal on outer face). Inner face usually yellowish with the lower part orange or reddish. "Knee" with upper part usually black and lower part blue (especially on inner face), with the black often forming roughly a crescent shape around the blue. Hind tibiae blue (or at least bluish) with spines black or black-tipped.
The males are distinctive in having the cerci nearly round, with a lobe on the upper side near the tip that bends inward over the tip of the abdomen. The furculae are present but relatively short and roughly finger-shaped. No other species in it's range has this type of cerci.
Replacing M. lakinus
eastward in Texas, very similar, and perhaps it's closest relative is M. tuberculatus
. That species is long-winged, has the pronotum cut near the middle, usually yellowish hind tibiae, and the male cerci are similar, but with the base a bit narrower and the lobe wider and longer (giving the cerci something akin to a fat lopsided boomerang shape).
Melanoplus plebejus & M. cameronis are also quite similar, but occur further to east from s. Texas to s. Oklahoma. They tend to be more plain in pattern, and are a bit more slender in overall build with largish heads; they have the cerci elongate (roughly narrowerly dumbbell-shaped) and slightly spooned near the tip, and the male subgenital plate is proportionately shorter and less apically pointed.
M. lakinus is not found west into the Great Basin nor beyond Arizona, but M. rileyanus in California is very similar, though slightly different in appearance. It averages smaller with shorter wings.
species can look quite similar, but they may have hind tibiae of other colors, usually have proportionately smaller heads, and the dark longitudinal median area on top of the pronotum and head usually forms a narrower and more contrasting stripe that usually includes at least a partial pale line down the center. The outer hind femur almost always has strongly contrasting diagonal cross bands (most often faint in M. lakinus
, but variable). In Aeoloplides
the male cerci are rather broad near the base, but taper gradually to a blunt point. Aeoloplides
are usually much more strictly confined to their Chenopod host plants, which they rarely stray from.
Very common in much of the West, approximately from Wyoming to Minnesota, Texas, Arizona, and southward well into Mexico. It apparently does not range west past the east margin of the Great Basin, nor into the Mojave or Colorado Deserts.
It strongly favors disturbed somewhat bare areas in grassland regions, where there is low weedy vegetation. It can be quite common within towns in yards and vacant lots and can occasionally be a garden pest. It is generally less than abundant in grasslands of good condition, but thrives in weedy over-used rangeland.
In 1959, Arizona populations of the migratory and Lakin grasshopper infested weedy rangeland and together averaged 20 to 50 adults per square yard.
Weedy city lots provide favorable breeding areas from which the grasshoppers may move into vegetable and flower gardens.
Feeds on a wide variety of plant species, mostly using native herbaceous Dicots. However, it adapts well to areas dominated by introduced herbaceous weeds. It shows some preference for members of the Goosefoot Family - Chenopodiaceae (such as Atriplex, Salsola, Chenopodium, and Bassia) and Asteraceae (such as Taraxicum, Lactuca, Sonchus, and Macheranthera). Will also eat a variety of garden flowers, herbs, and vegetables, but rarely become a serious pest on them. While usually prefering somewhat bare weedy environments, populations can breed and proliferate in mowed grass lawn areas where the only available food appears to be lawn grasses (or perhaps the grasshoppers are eating any lawn weeds as they appear?).
Populations of the Lakin grasshopper can increase to high densities.
Near La Junta, Colorado on 4 July 1996, nymphs (III to V instars) numbered 91 per square yard.